Life Beyond Death

The purpose of death
The nature of life after death
How we can prepare for death
How we can assist the dying


To die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

Walt Whitman - Song of Myself

Every day on Earth, roughly 160,000 people die. In a year, that amounts to 60,000,000 deaths. In another 80 years, nearly everyone on Earth today will have died. It can happen at any time, to anybody. Will you be ready when it happens to you?

Most of us live in denial, as if death will never happen. But sooner or later, death comes to everybody. And with it come a number of urgent questions: What happens after death? Is there life after death...or an afterlife? How can I prepare for death and what's the point of it all?

Most people postpone these questions until the end, when the certainty of death can no longer be ignored. By that time they may be caught by surprise, or simply unprepared for the situation at hand. Then a perfectly natural and beautiful stage of life is overshadowed with fear and confusion.

Why wait until the end? Why not ask these questions now, while there's time to make a serious inquiry? You might discover something wonderful and completely unexpected. What if, as Walt Whitman says, "to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier."?

The Stages of Life After Death

You say I am going away. But where can I go? I am always here.

Sri Ramana Maharshi, on his deathbed to grieving devotees.

Forward

The mystery of death is part of the human condition. But on the level of intuition, we have access to information that transcends both the language and logic of the mind. If the information on this site resonates with you, then please use it to prepare for the journey ahead. Or better yet, use it as a launching point for your own inquiry. Read the books recommended herein and above all, let your own inner guidance lead you.

Introduction

Each life is a unique and personal journey. And yet during life, we all pass through the same stages of childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. In the same way, death is also a personal journey that progresses in stages. The following chapters contain a description of the four primary stages of life after death, thus providing a road map of the territory ahead. As with any map, a great deal of information has been condensed in order to provide an overview and to highlight the more important landmarks.

To describe the different stages of life after death, we must first talk about the nature of Consciousness, as well as the various bodies and planes of experience.

Consciousness

All experience arises in Consciousness, which is both the foundation and substance of creation. Divested of all limitations fabricated by the mind, Consciousness is formless, eternal and unbounded. For these reasons, it is considered absolute and Divine in nature.

When we speak of Consciousness, we're not referring to something "out there", in space. It's the basis of our own awareness, which shines behind the mind, making it possible to read and understand these words, right now. From this perspective, the recognition of Consciousness is the discovery of our own essential nature.

Because Consciousness is purely spiritual in nature, it's completely hidden from view. We cannot know it objectively because it's the subjective reality behind all experience. As such, its character is mysterious and paradoxical. Some call it the impersonal and non-dual reality underlying the manifest creation. Others refer to it in personal terms, as the Creator and Supreme Divine Being. Both views are correct, and at the same time, Consciousness transcends all conceptual limitations.

Bodies and Planes of Experience

Just as sunlight separates into different bands of color, Consciousness separates into different planes of experience. Each plane corresponds to a particular type of body, or platform of conscious experience. (see Illustrations) Each plane and its corresponding body are actually two sides of the same coin. For example, the physical body and the physical plane are two aspects of the same experience and cannot be separated from one another.

After death, our conscious experience doesn't cease. It simply recedes from the physical plane to the subtle, or astral plane and the corresponding astral body. (When people speak of spirits, or spirit communication, they're usually referring to the astral plane of experience.) The astral body is essentially a bundle of psychic impressions (conscious and subconscious), which accumulate during Earth life. From this perspective, the astral plane is like a reflection, or an echo of the Earth experience. Although the astral body survives death of the physical body, it is not eternal and has its own definite life span.

Beyond the astral plane is the spiritual plane and the corresponding spiritual body, or soul. The spiritual body is the most fundamental unit of creation and as such, it is both immortal and eternal. It's a manifest form of Divine Consciousness, plus the spiritual essence, which has accumulated over many cycles of Earth life. More will be said about spiritual essence in the pages that follow.

From the foregoing, the descending order of existence can be illustrated in this way: Divine Consciousness -> spiritual plane -> astral plane -> physical plane.

These different planes are not locations in time or space. They are distinct states of consciousness, or levels of subjective experience within us. Whether we realize it or not, as human beings we live and function on all three planes simultaneously.

Individual Awareness

Individual awareness, and the experience of individuality, is a phenomenon that arises in the mind, where the light of Divine Consciousness produces a reflection, or a sense of "me". Like a mirage in the desert, this reflection is a spontaneous appearance, which has no independent existence. Although we experience ourselves as separate and independent individuals, this is only how it appears in the mind. From a higher perspective, there is only Divine Consciousness, reflecting in different minds, like the moon reflecting in different pots of water.

Stage One - Life Review and Cosmic Panorama

At the time of death, this very experience [mind's ultimate nature] arises effortlessly. At this moment, mind arrives directly at it's own ground. It's just like coming home.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Mind Beyond Death

As soon as we realize that we've died (or in some cases, just before the moment of death) we experience a life review, in which we see and feel every detail of the life just lived; not sequentially, but all at once, in a single flash. A second and much longer life review takes place later, during stage three.

After this initial review there is usually a lapse in awareness, which may be brief or last for several days of Earth time. Eventually we awaken to discover that we're alive. And miracle of miracles...there is no death! The initial sense of wonder and freedom is beyond anything we've known during Earth life. And at the same time, we witness the whole range of conscious experience, from the physical plane, which we're now leaving, through the astral plane, all the way to the spiritual plane. This may be experienced as a light at the end of a dark tunnel or valley.

During this initial stage of expansion, there's a brief window of opportunity to recognize Divine Consciousness as our essential nature and ascend directly to the spiritual plane. But unless we're prepared for this opportunity, it's unlikely that we'll recognize it, or have the necessary spiritual momentum to make the leap. Residual desires exert a strong attraction and tend to pull awareness back to the astral plane and into the next stage of life after death.

Stage Two - Purification

A good man has nothing to fear, either in life or in death. And his fate is not a matter of indifference to the Gods. Socrates, to the Jury in Plato's Apology

This second stage begins when we become aware of a new world around us. This is the astral plane; a mirror image of the human psyche, filled with all the impressions of the collective human experience. Here we meet our spiritual guide who helps to orient us in our new surroundings and lead us through the various stages of life after death. Our guide may appear as a divine being, a trusted friend or a familiar, loving presence. Sometimes referred to as the gatekeeper or guardian angel, our spiritual guide has been supporting us behind the scenes through many cycles of birth and death.

One of the unique features of Earth life is that our inner desires and motives are private and hidden from view. Also, on the Earth plane, people of all different character types commingle together. But after death, the situation is quite different. There we find that our inner desires and motives are reflected outwardly in our faces. And because everyone seeks to associate with others of a similar character, the astral plane is segregated into spheres of association according to different vibrational qualities.

When we first become aware of our astral body, this aspect of transparency can be quite unsettling. The negative impressions we accumulated during Earth life, such as anger, lust, fear and greed, are reflected outwardly for all to see. Any refusal to accept our shadow material causes a split in the psyche. Before we can progress, we must heal this split. And we can only do this by accepting and taking responsibility for all the impressions we've accumulated, without filters, excuses or rationalizations.

This process may be painful and there usually arise certain archetypal experiences, which are woven into the human psyche. Although these experiences can vary from person to person, they usually involve the acceptance, repentance and forgiveness of past actions. In some traditions, this stage is called purgatory or hell. But these words imply judgment and punishment, which is misleading and not what this process is about. Rather, it's the cosmic law of evolution as it plays out on the subtle planes. Awareness cannot ascend to the higher planes until the lower vibrational impressions have been resolved and transformed. This process may be easy or difficult depending on how willing we are to heal, forgive and let go.

For most people on a spiritual path, a great deal of purification naturally takes place during Earth life, by accepting responsibility for our actions and exchanging forgiveness with others. (See chapter: Preparing for Death) Consequently, for many, this stage of purification is brief and relatively easy.

With the exception of those few who are liberated during life, or just after death, everyone must pass through this stage of purification, which is actually one of the great blessings of life after death. Ultimately, only our fear and ignorance die. And during this process, we discover that only our fear and ignorance make us feel separated from the Divine.

Stage Three - Extracting the Essence

In death, you lose nothing but your ignorance. Barry Long

The purpose of this stage is to extract the essence of the life just lived. We do this by re-living our Earth life, with particular focus on the deeper meaning and finer feelings of each experience. During this process, countless psychic impressions are sifted and reviewed in great detail. Whatever material is no longer needed is cast aside, like chaff from the grain. At the same time, the true value of our life experience is gathered together into a concentrated spiritual essence.

When extracting gold from the earth, miners may collect 50 tons of raw ore to produce a single ounce of pure gold. Likewise, the huge volume of psychic impressions from a lifetime yields only a tiny germ of spiritual essence. The exact nature of this essence is a mystery. It could be called the deepest meaning, or the finest expression of a human life. From another perspective, it represents the accumulated truth, love and wisdom of the Earth experience. Once gathered, this essence ascends to the next plane where it becomes a permanent part of our spiritual body, or soul.

As we distill the psychic impressions, we're actually consuming our astral body, for really they are one and the same. By getting rid of what is no longer needed, we're becoming less. And at the same time we're becoming more, in the sense of more real, true, and eternal.

This process culminates in what could be called a "second death", at which point there are two possible outcomes. If the astral body has been sufficiently consumed through the process described above, then individual awareness makes a "quantum leap" to the spiritual plane where it merges with soul. However, if an astral body remains in tact, then residual desires can pull awareness back to the Earth plane for another cycle of birth and death. These desires are like psychic seeds, or DNA, which become the template for a new birth, or so called, "reincarnation".

The term "reincarnation" usually refers to a soul incarnating a human form repeatedly, over many lifetimes. This is a misunderstanding. The soul always remains on the spiritual plane and can neither incarnate nor reincarnate a human form. Rather, the soul participates in recurring human births and the degree of participation, as well as the number and frequency of recurring births, can vary widely. Likewise, a recurring birth may take place soon after death or hundreds of years later. There are many variables which influence this process and the range of possibilities is enormous.

Stage Four - The Spiritual Plane

What happens at death is so unspeakably glorious that our imagination and our feelings do not suffice to form even an approximation of it. C. G. Jung

The spiritual plane is the most real and eternal plane of creation. It's a realm of light beyond form, which includes many sub-planes and ascending levels. In some traditions it's called heaven, or the celestial realm. But these words don't do justice to the love, truth and beauty, which are the essential features of this plane. Presiding here are the great souls, as well as eternal forms, which serve as the template for the entire order of creation.

The spiritual plane marks the end of life after death and the beginning of eternal life, beyond the cycles of birth and death. During the first three stages after death, our experience is merely an echo of Earth life; a reflection of the psychic impressions from the life just lived. From this perspective, everything up to this point is the nature of a dream; an increasingly real dream, but a dream nonetheless. In contrast, the spiritual plane exists in its own right, beyond the Earth experience and the various astral planes.

Almost everyone has an intuitive awareness (conscious or subconscious) of the spiritual plane. It exists within us, individually and collectively, as our conscience, inner guidance and sense of highest good. It's this intuition that we reflect off when we're being courageous and true in the face of difficult circumstances. And it's during these times that we generate the greatest amount of spiritual essence.

The accumulation of spiritual essence is the purpose of human life and determines the evolution of our conscious experience. When our spiritual essence reaches a critical mass, it draws our awareness to the spiritual plane where it merges with the soul. Otherwise, awareness tends to get involved with another cycle of birth and death. But it's alright because our spiritual essence is never lost. It's continuously added to our evolving soul, which gains additional experience and depth with every cycle of Earth life.

Preparing for Death

Every moment keep your luggage packed. Nobody knows when death will call. The warrant of death is like the arrest warrant. One cannot think of appealing against it. No matter what is happening, we have to quickly leave off and go. So, if you are ready before hand, there will not be much difficulty in leaving. Brahmananda Saraswathi, Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath

Preparing for death is not something we can do in a week or a month, or any fixed time frame. In the broadest sense our whole life is preparation, because whatever psychic impressions we gather during life will form the landscape of our experience after death. To the degree we can resolve these impressions and cultivate a spiritual perspective about ourselves and the world, we will greatly enhance the quality of our experience, both during life and after death. Here are some suggestions in that regard.

Daily Spiritual Practice - The most universal spiritual practice is repetition of the holy "word", or "name" of God, using a string of beads called a Rosary, Mala, or Tasbih. This ancient practice is revered in all the great traditions as an effective means to purify the subtle body and resolve psychic impressions which bind us to the Earth plane. Your priest, rabbi or imam can help you get started. If you don't feel drawn to any spiritual tradition and are looking for a spiritual practice, please consider the Transcendental Meditation program (TM), as taught by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, or the Art of Living program, as taught by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, or the IAM Meditation, as taught by Mata Amritanandamayi (aka, Amma). All of these programs are easy to learn and will not conflict with any religion or spiritual belief. Most cities around the world have TM, Art of Living or M.A. Centers where you can learn one of these excellent programs.

Forgiveness and Redemption - Sooner or later, whether during life or after death, we all must take responsibility for our past actions and forgive others for theirs. If you've hurt someone, even in the distant past, apologize to that person and try to make amends in whatever way is appropriate. If you're unable to do this, or if contact from you would not be welcome by the other person, talk about your feelings with a trusted friend or counselor. Or seek redemption in a way that's meaningful to you. For example, you might take a vow, do penance or go on a spiritual pilgrimage. When performed sincerely, in the spirit of repentance, these are powerful demonstrations of responsibility within your own psyche. When you've completed one of these rituals, you've stepped into a river and out onto the other side, a changed person.

Likewise, if someone has hurt you, forgive that person completely and without conditions. This may take time, but keep trying. Forgiveness does not mean we have to accept bad or inappropriate behavior. The person's behavior may be wrong, but we can still forgive the person. Forgiveness is a form of compassion which arises from the understanding that essentially, we're all the same. And we're all doing the best we can, limited by our own negative conditioning. Ultimately, we forgive others because we realize it's in our own best interest to do so.

Ahimsa - In Sanskrit, ahimsa refers to the principle of "Do No Harm". It arises from the recognition that all living beings share a common spiritual origin. In practice, this means making an effort to avoid speech or action which is harmful to ourselves, others, society or the planet. Ahimsa requires mindfulness of others on many levels as we navigate through life, and invariably we'll fail at times. But that's ok. Mistakes are an important part of the process if we accept responsibility, make amends in whatever way we can and move on. The purpose of life is to gain knowledge through experience. And this includes making many mistakes along the way.

Love - Love is not simply an emotion. It's the underlying spiritual current that sustains and enlivens the soul. On the Earth plane there are two essential motivations; love and fear. If we pay attention to our daily choices, we can see which one is driving our actions. The purpose of this exercise is not to judge ourselves, but simply to cultivate the habit of choosing love as often as possible. Over time this habit will deepen our experience and after we cross over, will quicken our transition to the spiritual plane. In other words, love is the spiritual current that leads to the spiritual plane. If we are familiar with the love inside of us, we will easily ride that current back to the spiritual plane after we cross over. But if we've lost touch with our love during life, it will be more difficult to find it after death. This is the essential teaching of great spiritual masters from all traditions.

Pay Attention to Inner Desires and Motives - On the Earth plane, our inner desires and motives are private and hidden from view. As a result, we hardly pay attention to them. But after death, our inner desires and motives are reflected outwardly in the character of our faces and cannot be hidden. This is worth thinking about. What if every time you had a lustful, hateful or selfish motive, it was obvious for everyone to see? You might decide to pay more attention to these things. It's enough just to notice these things and stop ignoring them. We don't need to struggle against them or judge ourselves. The fact is that most of us have never been taught that our inner world needs attention. In this regard, simple awareness of the truth will have a transforming effect.

Cultivate a Spiritual Perspective - As human beings, we tend to view Earth life in absolute terms, as if it were the end-all and be-all of existence. This limited perspective has a powerful grip on the human psyche. As a result, many people are in denial about death and refuse to consider the possibility of an afterlife. When people die in this frame of mind, they can be confused, disoriented and unable to accept that they've died. As a result, normal progress through the stages of death may be delayed.

In preparation for death, it's valuable to cultivate a broader perspective. The truth is, we are not human beings. We're spiritual beings having a brief human experience. And the Earth is not our home. It's a place we're visiting for a short time in order to experience limitations and challenges, which otherwise we'd have no way to know. If this seems hard to believe, do your own research in the area of the afterlife and near-death studies. If you approach these subjects with an open mind, you'll find overwhelming evidence that consciousness does, in fact, survive death of the physical body. If we cultivate this broader perspective, or even just maintain an open mind on the subject, it will help smooth our progress through the various stages after death.

If you are interested to learn more, the following books present some of the best information about the afterlife, as well as clinical and scientific evidence for the survival of consciousness after death.

The Self Does Not Die - Titus Rivas, M.A., M.Sc., etal
Consciousness Beyond Life - Pim van Lommel, M.D.
Our Life after Death - Emanuel Swedenborg; Translated by George Dole
Life after Life - Raymond Moody, M.D., Ph.D.
Evidence of the Afterlife - Jeffrey Long, M.D.
Multidimensional Man - Jurgen Ziewe

Of the books listed above, I particularly recommend the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a scientist, geologist, engineer, inventor, philosopher and theologian who lived in Sweden during the 18th century. Swedenborg was an undisputed genius, on par with such luminaries as Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton and Plato. At the age of 53, he underwent a spiritual awakening after which he was in near constant communication with angels and spirits on the astral and spiritual planes. His detailed experiences leave no doubt about the depth and breadth of his realization. As an 18th century European, his only spiritual point of reference was that of the Bible and Christianity. Therefore, it's important to put his work in context with the language and thinking of his day. But once that translation has been made, the power and knowledge of his writings come through clearly. To learn more about Emanuel Swedenborg, go to swedenborg.com

In addition, I highly recommend the weekly Afterlife Report, distributed via email by retired attorney, Victor Zammit. To subscribe, go to: victorzammit.com

Healing Our Fear of Death

All beings tremble before danger. All fear death. All love life. Gautama Buddha

One of the best ways to heal our fear of death is to spend time with the dying. If you don't have a friend or family member who is dying, you can train as a volunteer with Hospice and assist with a dying patient for several hours a week. It's enough simply to be with them, respond to their needs, listen to their experiences and observe your own reactions. You'll know something has shifted when you're no longer running away from death by avoiding the subject, or trying to put a positive spin on the situation. Or when you can feel both the pain of personal loss and the exquisite beauty of this life passage, which is shared by every living being.

After the death, if you have the opportunity, just sit quietly with the body and feel the silence in the room. During the first few hours after death, we can sense that our friend is still very much alive and present in the room. And then, at some point, we can sense that they've gone and what remains is just a dead body. This experience is palpable and makes a deep impression on the mind. For reasons not fully understand, our fear of death has become lighter and more transparent. Some deep tension within us has been released.

For centuries, contemplation of death and the impermanence of life has played an important role in every spiritual tradition. The great sage Ramana Maharshi underwent a radical spiritual transformation, triggered by a sudden and involuntary contemplation of death. Plato maintained that true philosophical inquiry is actually a rehearsal for death. To this day, Christian mystics and monks contemplate death as part of their formal spiritual practice. Books are filled with accounts of spiritual transformations following near death experiences. What is it about facing death that has this effect on the mind?

When we contemplate death, the question naturally arises: Who or what dies? We know the body dies. But am I the body? Do I die? If we continue along this line of inquiry, we may stumble upon something inside of us that we know is deathless. We don't know how we know. We just know. This is the great paradox of life and death. We experience ourselves as bodies, and yet we know intuitively that we're something more. Just being in the presence of someone dying can put us face to face with the mystery and beauty of this paradox.

How We Can Assist the Dying

We have evolved a science of birth...but we are sadly in need of a science of death. When a child is coming into the world, we bustle about in intelligent endeavor; yet when a lifelong friend is about to leave us, we stand helplessly about, ignorant of how to aid, or worse, we bungle, and cause suffering instead of helping. Max Heindel, The Light Beyond Death

In addition to the customary care and compassion that we give to the dying, there are steps we can take to help them prepare for the spiritual journey that lies ahead.

Before death and afterward, during the transition period, traditional sacred music or chanting can help attune the mind and the subtle body to higher planes of experience. For example, Gregorian chants may be appropriate for those brought up in the Christian tradition, the Vishnu Sahasranam for the Hindu tradition, or the Qur'an for the Islamic tradition.

The period before death can be difficult as the body is shutting down or being consumed by disease. During this time, it's easy for the mind to become overwhelmed and unable to manage with daily life. This is the time for friends and family to step in and take over the person's day to day responsibilities. In particular, a mother with young children needs to be assured that her children will be protected and cared for. The last thoughts and feelings before death set the tone for everything that follows. Anything we can do to reduce worry and create an uplifting atmosphere will help make for an easier passage.

As the end is drawing near, it would be ideal if the body were positioned to encourage the energies to flow upward and out through the upper channels. If it will not cause undue pain or discomfort, help the person to sit upright, or in a semi-upright position. Alternatively, you may turn them onto their right side. In some cases, a change of position is not practical, or even possible. That's ok. It's only something to bear in mind, if circumstances permit.

Transition Period

After death, our psychic connection with the body is not severed at once, but disintegrates gradually over 24 to 48 hours. During this period, loud noise or jarring motion can be distracting or even painful to the deceased. Also, it's important to remember that the departed one is not dead. The physical body is dead, but the awareness is still alive and sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others. If you think of them as dead, they may sense your thoughts and this can be confusing or painful for them.

Of course, it's natural to grieve after such a loss. But also, it's important to bear in mind that the departed can hear, and often see, everything in the room for some time after passing. If they hear overt grieving, they'll naturally want to console you and let you know that they're alright and not dead. But you won't be able to hear them and this gap in communication can be frustrating for them.

Sometimes, the departed can be disoriented after death. They may feel so alive and fresh that they're unable to grasp what's happened. This is particularly true in cases of sudden death. In some traditions, it's customary to read instructions aloud to the departed, to help orient and guide them through the stages of death. (See next chapter: Instructions for the Departed)

Whether you feel inclined to read aloud or not, feel free to tell them you love them. Or through prayer, ask the Divine to guide their passage. In whatever way you are able, feel your love for them and remember that they are not dead. This will help them in their passage and it will help you to bear the loss of their physical presence.

Contacting the Departed

During times of grief, people often try to contact the deceased through a "spirit medium". There are many genuine and honest spirit mediums in the world. But please be advised; there are also mediums who exploit grief and fear at a time when people are most vulnerable. Or, the medium may contact an astral spirit who pretends to be your loved one, with malicious intent. If you feel that you need the help of a spirit medium, please take your time, get references and choose one carefully.

Also, please consider that you don't need a spirit medium to communicate with your loved ones, who are still very much alive on the inner planes. Keep their picture in a place of honor in your home and feel your love whenever you think of them. Tell them that you love them and miss them. They may not be able to hear your words, but they will feel your love. Our words will not reach the inner planes. But love is like a beam of light that will reach your loved ones where ever they are. They will feel your love and know it is you. And they will return love to you in the same way.

Instructions for the Departed

It's recommended that these instructions be read aloud to the departed, by a close relative or friend, several times during the transition period and twice a day for a couple of days thereafter. This is particularly important in cases of sudden death where the departed may be confused or disoriented. Speak to them just as you did before they died, using familiar names and expressions.

If the body has been moved to a mortuary, close friends and family are usually allowed private time with the body after it has been prepared for cremation or burial. But if this is not possible, you may read these instructions aloud in the room where they took their last breath, or even in their bedroom at home. If you have a close bond with the departed, you can be assured that they will hear you for several days after the body has died.

___________________ (person's familiar name), listen to my voice. I am here with you and will now explain what is happening. Your body has ceased to function. What is called "death" has finally come. It comes to every body, at the right time. But listen! You can hear my words, so you can't be dead. Isn't that right? In this experience is the miracle of miracles, that there is no death. The worst thing that can possibly happen to you, has now happened, and you're alright. Nothing can hurt you now. You are invincible! Rejoice in the victory of this moment.

The time has come for you to forget about Earth life and the ___________ (first and last name of the departed) experience. You have finished all your business here. I (we) will take care of everything that needs to be done here. If you will trust me now, it's time to let go and move on.

Over the next few days, the Earth scene will fade, move to one side or recede. Don't be afraid. You will be guided every step of the way. If you sense a presence, or a light, this is the primordial nature of your soul. It may appear luminous and transparent like a cloudless sky. Or shining and brilliant like the sun. Or soft and opaque like moonlight through a cloud. Or it may feel like a warm and loving presence in your heart. This is your soul nature. Thoughts and feelings may come and go. But this presence has been with you always. Feel how familiar it is. Allow your attention to rest there. Embrace it. Merge with it.

Or, you may feel the presence of __________. (God, Allah, Jesus, Mary, Buddha, Krishna, according to religion or spiritual practice.) Follow Him (Her). He (She) will lead you. If you feel distracted by strong images, noises or feelings, don't be afraid. These hallucinations arise naturally in the mind and cannot harm you. They are simply impressions you gathered during life that are now arising to be released. You can let them be. If you feel the need for help, just remember the holy name of _______. (Repeat the name of the departed's favorite Deity slowly, several times.) Repeat His (Her) name whenever you remember to do so. (Again, repeat the name of the favorite Deity slowly, several times.) His (Her) holy name will protect and lead you.

At other times, you may feel yourself passing through a dark tunnel or valley. The darkness may seem overwhelming, oppressive, unending. You are passing through the stages of death, just as countless others have done before you, and just as you yourself have done many times before. Remember that you are being held firmly by the Divine and cannot be lost. Try to remain awake and alert during this process. There is profound truth in it. You are going home.

In time, the darkness will open up into a new and wondrous life, beyond the Earth plane. And you will extract the golden essence of the life just lived. This will be a fascinating and deeply satisfying experience. You will see for yourself just how much truth, beauty and love is in every human life.

You've been a wonderful ___________ (mother, father, brother, sister, friend, etc.). You've made a huge difference in my life and the lives of many others here on Earth. I will remain connected with you in my heart and will always send you my love and gratitude.

Proper Treatment of the Body

As soon as possible after the last breath, it's best if the body can be positioned on its right side. If this is not practical, for whatever reason, then position the body lying face up, with hands folded across the lower abdomen. If the eyes and mouth are open and cannot easily be closed, place a cloth over the face to encourage the awareness to turn inward. It's a good idea to do these things within the first few minutes, before rigor mortis sets in. Then the body should be left undisturbed in a quiet room during a transition period of at least 24 hours. During this period, if circumstances demand that the body be moved, do so carefully. Then, as soon as possible, leave the body undisturbed for the remainder of the prescribed time.

During the transition period (prior to burial or cremation) it's a good idea to keep the body as cool as possible. If it's winter time, open the windows wide and turn off the heat. Otherwise, use air conditioning at the lowest possible setting. Or, if necessary, use ice packs to keep the body cool during this period.

As soon as possible after the transition period, the body should be buried or cremated, without post mortem or embalming. However, if these procedures are required, they should be performed after the 24 hour transition period, and then the body buried or cremated as soon as possible thereafter.

If cremation is performed, the ashes should be scattered in the ocean, a river, or across a wide area of natural terrain, as soon as possible.

After death, the physical body is returned to the natural elements through the process of cremation, or biological decay. At the same time, the astral body detaches from the physical plane and recedes to the higher planes of experience. From a spiritual perspective, we want to avoid anything that would inhibit these processes, which ideally should take place within a matter of days. Unfortunately, with the use of modern caskets and burial methods, decay of the body can take many months. And during this time, it may become an object of attraction for the departing spirit, keeping it linked to the Earth plane for longer than necessary. From this perspective, it's best if the body can be cremated. However, if cremation is not compatible with the spiritual traditions of the deceased, it's recommended that the body be buried in a simple wooden box, or wrapped in cloth, without a casket.

Funeral rites, according to the spiritual tradition of the departed, serve an important function for a number of reasons. These ancient performances help the astral body to sever its connection with the Earth plane and move on to the higher planes of experience. They also help to purify the karma of surviving family members and ancestors, going back several generations.

Suicide

A man should wait, and not take his own life until God summons him, as he is now summoning me. Socrates, to his disciples in Plato's Phaedo

To get a human body is a rare thing - make full use of it. Every second in human life is very valuable. Brahmananda Saraswathi, Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath

When taking a human birth, we have a plan to live on Earth for a certain period of time. This plan is not exact to the minute and may even be extended in some circumstances. But usually, everyone fulfills their original life plan, unless they commit suicide.

People may decide to end their lives for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes they sacrifice their lives for the sake of others. Or their decision may be the result of long-standing physical pain, or mental illness. But if the primary motivation is to hurt others, or to escape difficult circumstances, this usually creates an obstacle that has to be resolved after death.

There are documented accounts of suicide survivors who recall their experience in the after death state. In most cases, they realized they had made a serious mistake and wanted to go back and choose again. As further testimony, consider that from the beginning of human history, suicide has been prohibited in every spiritual tradition. It is, after all, the violent taking of a human life. If we know someone contemplating suicide, we should try to persuade them to explore other options and seek professional help.

The purpose of human life is to gather contrasting experience. Not just pleasant experience, but the whole range of human experience. We may think that our lives belong to us, but this is an illusion. Our lives belong to the Divine. From this perspective, it's not about what we may like or dislike. And any attempt to circumvent life won't work. In the end, our experiences will unfold as dictated by destiny. The more we understand this process and the purpose behind it, the easier it will be to accept what comes and move forward.

Aside from the negative consequences of suicide, it's important to consider the positive value of completing our life plan. Evolution is a continuous process on all the planes of experience. But in general, spiritual growth progresses much faster on the Earth plane and this is particularly true when we're faced with difficult circumstances. It's during these times that we have an opportunity to accumulate an extraordinary amount of spiritual essence, which becomes a permanent part of our spiritual body. From this perspective, a single day of Earth life may be equivalent to 100 years on the higher planes.

Great sages from all spiritual traditions have told us that a human birth is a precious opportunity and must not be wasted. This is not to say that we should seek out difficult or painful experiences. But if they come uninvited, we can be assured that they offer the opportunity for a quantum leap in our spiritual evolution.

Terminal Illness - End of Life Fasting

Most people would consider terminal illness to be the worst misfortune that can happen in life. And yet from a spiritual perspective, terminal illness offers certain opportunities that are not available in the case of sudden death. During a terminal illness we have time to settle our personal affairs, prepare ourselves and our loved ones and address any unfinished business. Also we have an opportunity to apologize to people we've hurt and to forgive those who've hurt us. These simple acts can resolve deeply held psychic impressions, which otherwise we would carry with us into the next world. If we take advantage of these opportunities, we can pave the way for a smooth transition after death. For this reason, ancient sages considered terminal illness preferable to sudden death.

During terminal illness people will sometimes turn to suicide in an effort to avoid the onslaught of physical and emotional pain. But even in this case, suicide is not a good idea, for the reasons outlined previously (see Suicide). However, certain ancient traditions offer an alternative in this situation - a voluntary ritual fasting reserved for the terminally ill, called Prayopavesa (Hindu) or Santhara (Jain). Below is a brief explanation of Prayopavesa by Satguru Subramuniyaswami, abbot of the Saivite Hindu monastery on Kauai, Hawaii. Subramuniyaswami himself observed Prayopavesa after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2001. During his fast, he continued many of his daily duties and passed away peacefully on the 32nd day.

Prayopavesa, by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami

In cases of terminal disease or great disability, religious self-willed death through fasting - Prayopavesa - is permitted. The person making such a decision declares it publicly, which allows for community regulation and distinguishes the act from suicide, performed privately in traumatic, emotional states of anguish and despair.

Ancient lawgivers cite various stipulations: 1) The inability to perform normal bodily purification. 2) Death appears imminent, or the condition is so bad that life's pleasures are reduced to nil. 3) The action must be subject to community regulation.

The gradual nature of Prayopavesa is a key factor distinguishing it from sudden suicide, for it allows time for the individual to settle all differences with others, to ponder life and draw close to God, as well as for loved ones to oversee the person's gradual exit from the physical world. In the ideal practice, one begins by obtaining forgiveness and giving forgiveness. Next, a full discussion of all karmas of this life and confessing one's wrongdoings. Thereafter, attention is to be focused on scripture and the guru's noble teachings. Meditation on the innermost, immortal Self becomes the full focus as one gradually abstains from food.

In the event of terminal illness, Prayopavesa offers us the opportunity to arrange our own death if and when the time is right. If this idea appeals to you, discuss it with your family and decide whether it's an appropriate option for you. If so, then ask an attorney to clarify your intentions by means of a Living Will and Health Care Directive to Physicians, according to the laws of your state and country of domicile.

Contact / Support

If you have a question about the content of this website, or about death in general, I'm available to correspond via email or Skype. All sincere inquiries will be answered.

Please note that I am not a licensed counselor or therapist. My commitment is to help raise the collective awareness about life, death and spiritual evolution.

Bart Walton
Kauai, HI, USA